Planet Princeton

Princeton Public Schools Board and Teachers Union to Hold Second Mediation Session Tonight

Princeton Teachers Union protestRepresentatives from the school board and the teachers union in Princeton will meet with a mediator for the second time in less than a month tonight to try to work out a new teacher contract. Teachers have been working under their old contract since June.

Last week, teachers stopped participating in voluntary activities, including chaperoning, attending unpaid committee meetings, attending unpaid evening performances and concerts, and participating in PTO party boards. Many school clubs have paid advisers, but some have volunteer advisers. Unpaid club advisers have also suspended their activities.

Representatives from the union criticized the school board after the last negotiating session, complaining that after seven months of negotiation sessions, the board only moved 0.2 percent and 0.04 percent in their salary offers for 2014-2015 and 2016-2017 respectively.

The board originally offered the teachers an average increase of 1.8 percent increase per year. Under the step system guidelines the union supports, teachers receive different increases based on seniority and education. Some teachers would receive lower percentage raises than others. Four percent of the teachers, or 15 people, would receive 25 percent of the entire pot of money available for raises, school officials say.

A key point of debate has been health insurance plans. The union claims it has presented a proposal that would save the district more than $400,000 based upon this year’s insurance rates, and claims the board is proposing a plan that would save less than $170,000, and provide less coverage. Teachers currently pay 24 percent of their health care premiums, according to the union.

“With savings such as we propose a fair contract – one that is both fiscally responsible and provides premium contribution relief for educators – is attainable. The Board, however, continues to maintain that NJ law Chapter 78 prohibits the bargaining of premium contributions,” the union statement reads. “There is no question that refusing to bargain is a choice the Board is making, not a legal mandate. By calling the high contribution rates “the law” the Board is saying “end of discussion.” If they were to call the same rates their “proposal” there would be the hope of making progress. Educators’ contributions are among the highest in the nation, reaching as high as 35 percent.”

According to board representatives, the statement from the union contains numerous factual and legal inaccuracies.

“Having said that, we had a constructive session with the State-appointed mediator on November 20. Rather than argue these points in public, we will continue to work with the union and the mediator in the weeks ahead to come to an agreement on the open issues between us, which mainly concern salary and benefits.”

The union says the New Jersey legislature exempted health care cost increases from the two-percent cap and that premium contributions will not bust the school budget.

The school board counters that the exemption from the 2% cap is not available to the union. The exemption would only be available to the extent that the District’s health care costs (after depleting a reserve) exceeded 2% and in turn were not exceeded by the rise in State Health Plan costs. In order to go to the state health plan, all of other unions would also have to agree, officials said.

The state statute:

“The allowable adjustment for increases in health care costs authorized pursuant to subsection a. of this section shall equal that portion of the actual increase in total health care costs for the budget year, less any withdrawals from the current expense emergency reserve account for increases in total health care costs, that exceeds 2 percent of the total health care costs in the pre-budget year, but that is not in excess of the product of the total health care costs in the pre-budget year multiplied by the average percentage increase of the State Health Benefits Program,, as annually determined by the Division of Pensions and Benefits in the Department of the Treasury.”

The full letter from the union regarding the last round of negotiations on Nov. 20:

Letter to the Editor:

After seven months of negotiation sessions, the Board has moved 0.2% and 0.04% in their salary offers for 2014-2015 and 2016-2017 respectively. This despite the fact PREA has committed to partner with them, as we have in the past, to control premiums. We’ve proposed a plan that would save the district more than $400,000, based upon this year’s rates, and maintains equivalent coverage for our members. The Board, on the other hand, proposes a plan that would save less than $170,000, and provides less coverage.

With savings such as we propose a fair contract – one that is both fiscally responsible and provides premium contribution relief for educators – is attainable. The Board, however, continues to maintain that NJ law Chapter 78 prohibits the bargaining of premium contributions. There is no question that refusing to bargain is a choice the Board is making, not a legal mandate. By calling the high contribution rates “the law” the Board is saying “end of discussion.” If they were to call the same rates their “proposal” there would be the hope of making progress. Educators’ contributions are among the highest in the nation, reaching as high as 35%.

It is also worth mentioning that Governor Christie and the New Jersey legislature wisely exempted health care cost increases from the two-percent cap. The Board has stated that with the likely increases in health care costs, it will bust the budget to reduce premium contributions – it just isn’t so.

Beginning December 1st PREA members will stop donating their time and working without pay. We do this because we are entering a fourth month of lower take-home pay, following three years of losing ground, and there is no end in sight. Given this current state of negotiations, our morale is low and we simply will not give the Board “business as usual” in return for empty rhetoric. PREA members pay more towards premiums, and the Board pays less; we work without a new contract, and the Board holds onto the funds for our pay increases. Meanwhile, many among us cannot afford to continue giving more, no matter how hard it is to give less, and still remain fiscally responsible to their families. So the membership of PREA, has decided we all must stop our instinctive volunteering until we have a contract.

Joanne Ryan, PREA President Chair
John J. Baxter, PREA Negotiations Team

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

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Sat 19

Johnny Rockets Grand Opening Celebration at the Quaker Bridge Mall

January 1, 1970 @ 11:00 am - August 26, 2017 @ 1:00 pm
Sat 19
Sun 20

Good Grief Volunteer Facilitator Training

August 20 @ 9:30 am - 5:30 pm
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31 & Main Farmers Market at Campus Town

August 20 @ 10:00 am - 2:00 pm
Sun 20

Vinyl: A Magical History Tour

August 20 @ 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
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